From UU Intern to Panelist - Advancing Women's Rights Locally and at the United Nations

By JoAnne McClure

Logo banner for the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in 2018

Along with the panel on Female Genital Mutilation, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) hosted another parallel event at the Commission on the Status of Women, working closely with Dr. Bobbi Nassar who is the co-chair of NGO committee on human rights (UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts is the other co-chair). This panel had an ambitious concept of tying community-based organizations work to international treaties. We set out to address what that should look like, how they can get involved, and stress the importance of community involvement within the creation and maintenance of international treaties working to achieve gender equality. We wanted to emphasize that community level organizations are the key to viable international policies. Community organizations are at the front lines in providing services and working directly with those whom policies are being written and implemented for. This panel highlighted the importance of the community level organization’s voice throughout the process and implementation of international policies and global advocacy campaigns.

We assembled a great panelist ranging from local community leaders from New York City, to a member of All Womens India Conference, to a representative from the High Commissioners Office on Human Rights. As we worked with Dr. Nassar in putting together this event, she suggested that I (the UU women’s rights program intern) take this opportunity to gain experience in public speaking by giving the initial the framework for our panel. At first, I was hesitant about participating in this capacity but as we discussed it further I knew I couldn’t say no. I have worked in rural areas in the state of Nevada and felt passionate about giving context to our panel and explaining our concept. At first, I thought to myself I would only speak for a couple of minutes give the framework and be done. I realized I could add to the conversation and be more authentic if I spoke about my journey to the United Nations and about my perspectives on the institution that I have grown to respect more than I had initially.

On far right, JoAnne McClure gives remarks during UU-UNO's CSW62 panel on community-based organizing

JoAnne McClure (far right) gives introductory remarks at CSW panel.

Here you can read a copy of my speech that I gave as an introduction to the panel discussion during the event, Advancing Gender Equality through Community Based Organizing and Global Advocacy.

After my above address, the other panelists added to the conversation, bringing in their various expertise and experience. We heard about how community-based organizations had led a woman from a low income and single parent household to continue on to college, and now she works as the director of a settlement house here in New York City. We heard stories and experience from the two speakers from India about the work they have done over the years to fundraise for programs and organizations that provide community-based services. The representative from the High Commissioners Office on Human Rights echoed the importance of the previous speakers’ work in the community and stressed that their input is what strengthens international treaties. While communities may vary across the world, our underlying human nature and affect are similar, and there is much that can be learned from other experiences to strengthen our response in times of need. Our event unfortunately didn’t leave much time for discussion and questions at the end, as our panelist presentations went a bit over time, but overall it was a success.

Panelists at the UU-UNO's CSW 62 panel on community-based organizing

Panelists left to right: Bobbi Nassar (moderator), Antonio Cisneros De Alencar, Manju Kak, Maria Lizardo, JoAnne McClure.

The Commission on the Status of Women and particularly the NGO/CSW – NY office, who is in charge of putting together the parallel events, is working on trying to not only deliberate over international treaties and wordings of documents, but pivot focus onto the implementation of these treaties. They did groundbreaking work this year with drafting the zero document, which they submitted to the Member State representatives that were deliberating and voting on the Commission’s outcome document as a baseline for recommendations. This year CSW62 did draft an agreed conclusion. NGO/CSW NY will be continuing this practice and taking what they’ve learned from this year to work on the document earlier. They are also trying to focus on how civil society can play an active role in accountability and implementation of international treaties that protect human rights for everyone, particularly women and girls.

I am grateful for the experience that was provided by interning at the UU UN Office and working on these CSW parallel events. I learned so much about the United Nations, various organizations, and firsthand experience in putting together an event, and the chaos that can ensue.

Information on the Panelists

JoAnne McClure is currently working as an intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office here in New York with a focus on Women’s rights. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2017 with her Bachelor in Social Work, Cum Laude. She worked in the Social Work Department at the Division for Welfare and Supportive Services for the State of Nevada serving northern Nevadans in rural areas as a case manager before coming to New York to further her studies. She is currently a 2018 Master of Social Work Candidate with an emphasis in social policy at Columbia University.

Maria Lizardo, LMSW has worked at Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC) since 1998, where she was appointed as the Executive Director in November 2014. During the past 19 years, she has developed strong relationships with, and understanding of, her fellow community members. Her community experience is complemented by her graduate education with a focus on program administration, which includes the development and implementation of programs that address the needs of the community. Among all her accomplishments, Maria is extremely proud to be one of the co-founders of the New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence and 17 years later, is still a member of the steering committee that organizes the New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence: Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk (Brides' March) that takes place every September 26th commemorating the anniversary of Gladys’ death at the hands of her abusive ex-boyfriend. Raised in Washington Heights, Maria graduated from Hunter College of The City University of New York in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science, Cum Laude. In 1995, she obtained her Master of Social Work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. She is currently on the boards of the Human Services Council, the National Association of Social Workers- NYC Chapter, and United Neighborhood Houses.

Manju Kak has worked at the grass root level and is now the Treasurer of the All India Women's Conference. She has a Ph.D. and has been a teacher and Visiting Professor at National Universities and been the recipient of fellowships and awards including Senior Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture. She is national advocate for women’s issues and issues of good governance having been featured on television series and various panels. Her book, "Whose media--a Women's Space" has been widely distributed. In addition, Dr. Kak is a writer, critic, scholar and artist, who for two decades, through word, image, research or curatorial theme, has been intensely exploring some unique aspects of Himalayan life. For more information see

Antonio Cisneros De Alencar is the Officer-in-Charge of the Equality and Non-Discrimination Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York. Mr. Cisneros has worked with the United Nations for over seventeen years - in New York, in Geneva, and in the field, assisting countries (mostly in the Americas) in integrating international norms and principles into national plans and programmes. Prior to his current post, Mr. Cisneros served as a Human Rights Policy Specialist for the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and as OHCHR’s Programme Coordinator in Guatemala. Mr. Cisneros has a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO-Mexico) and Bachelor’s degrees in Communications and in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida.

Dr. Bobbi Nassar (Moderator) Dr. Bobbi Nassar was a Social Work Professor at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University's graduate school of social work, from 1979 through 2013 (36 years). Dr. Nassar represents International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (IFS) at the United Nations and has since 1991. She has served on the executive committee of the NGO Committee on Human Rights since 1997 and currently serves as Co-Chair. Dr. Nassar is a mental health clinician and has been since 1969. She's worked with refugee communities for the past 36 years. This work has included providing counseling to survivors of torture, human rights training, and leadership development. She is currently on the board of South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS) and is a Senior Adviser for International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD).

About the Author

JoAnne McClure

JoAnne McClure is currently working as an intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office in New York with a focus on Women’s rights. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2017 with her Bachelor in Social Work, Cum Laude. She worked in the Social Work Department at the...


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